A look at the parable of the wedding feast and our need to be clothed with the wedding garments only God provides
In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast. A king throws a party for his son and sends out invites to all of the guests—but everyone ignores the invitation. Even when the king sends his servants out to remind the invitees, they refuse to come.
The king then sends out more of his servants. They pass on the message to all the guests that the food is ready and everything is prepared, but everyone ignores the servants once again. Some of the invitees go back to getting on with their daily business, but others turn angrily on the servants, abusing them and then killing them.
The king is furious. He sends out his soldiers to have all of the murderers killed and then burn down their city. Then he decides to open the invitation to anyone and everyone. ‘The wedding is ready, but the guests didn’t deserve it’, he says. ‘So go to the roads leading out of the town, and invite everyone you find to the wedding.’ His servants then go out into the streets, round up everyone they find—‘bad and good alike’—and bring them to the wedding feast.
And so, at last, the wedding party is full of people enjoying the feast. But the king notices one person who doesn’t have a wedding suit on. ‘How did you get in here?’ he asks. The man has nothing to say for himself, and the king tells his servants to, ‘tie him up, hands and feet, and throw him into the darkness outside.’
Jesus then wraps up the parable with a single line: ‘Many are called, you see, but few are chosen.’
What does all this mean?
We need to understand that Jesus was telling this parable to Pharisees. Pharisees were a hyper-legalistic sect amongst the Jewish people. And when Jesus’ tale mentioned the invited guests rejecting the king’s invitation, the Pharisees would have quickly recognised he was talking about them.
The Jews were the people who God’s invitation into his kingdom was originally intended for. But as we now know, and as Jesus predicted, the Jews—his own people—rejected him. Not only that, many of them became complicit in his own eventual death, and that of many of the early apostles.
When Jesus told of the king’s invitation being rejected and his servants being killed, he was implicating the Pharisees directly. They would be guilty of rejecting God’s invitation and, as a result, face his judgement. (It’s no wonder Jesus had a habit of angering the Pharisees!)
In telling of the king then opening up the invitation to the wedding feast of his son to anyone and everyone, Jesus was describing how the invitation into God’s kingdom would be made available to all. Though Jesus’ mission was first and foremost to his own Jewish people, it was always God’s intention that the the doors would be opened to everyone (see Romans 1:16). The rejection of the king’s invitation—symbolic of the rejection of the apostles’ preaching about Jesus by many Jews—became the means by which this second invitation went out to everyone else.
We then have the wedding party itself. And at first sight, the casting out of the man not wearing the correct wedding garments seems confusing; harsh even. But though not stated explicitly in the parable, Jesus’ hearers understood that an invitation to a wedding by a king would have included all the appropriate garments to wear at the feast. To not wear those garments, gifted by the king, was hugely insulting.
On a deeper level, Jesus is posing the question: who are we putting our trust in? The wedding feast represents God’s kingdom, and God is inviting us to be part of it. But to accept his invitation we also have to receive his accompanying gift. The only way we’ll be welcome at the feast is if we wear the garments he provides, not something we think is good enough.
In the same way, our good works, and our own attempts at being righteous, will never be enough. Our clothes will never be acceptable in the king’s presence. We need his clothes. That’s to say, we need his righteousness, his covering, and his grace. We can’t earn these or work for them—they come with the free invitation. But we do have to choose whether we’ll receive them.
Many are invited, and many are welcomed into God’s kingdom and offered the ‘clothes’ of righteousness, but not everyone puts them on. Some people think their own clothes are good enough; others ignore the invitation completely. But those who, by faith, accept the invitation, put on the clothes, and head to the party, they are chosen. Sadly, all too few of them.